Friday, August 03, 2012

My cup runneth over

The Bible got one thing right about the creation: Humans are made of the same stuff as the earth. The same stuff as the beasts of the fields. The plants. The rocky substrate. Humans and humus. We come from the soil.

If we resonate with the creation -- through mathematics, science, art, poetry -- it is because we are the same stuff as the creation. The same atoms of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and all the rest. You could take the stuff in the storeroom of a chemistry lab and make a me. Or a you. It wouldn't be easy if you started from scratch, but in principle it is possible. No animator from outside is required; it's all on the shelf.

That is probably the greatest scientific discovery of my lifetime: There is no ghost in the machine.

Or rather, the ghost is ubiquitous. The ghost is in the soil, in the stuff of creation itself. The human is in the humus.

When the stars coalesced out of the fierce fire of the big bang, the ghost was there. Even then, the spirit was moving on the face of the waters. Not some airy-fairy immaterial soul, but matter with a rage for complexity, for combination. If humans have souls, so do atoms of carbon and oxygen. As stars fuse heavy elements they sing Te Deums. All over this universe of hundreds of billions of galaxies –- perhaps an infinity of galaxies –- matter is burning itself into new and wondrous forms.

It is humankind's grandest conceit to imagine that we are the point of it all.

We are part of the burning. Part of the material flame. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; I share my DNA with grass. He leadeth me beside the still waters; the light from the Orion Nebula is mostly the radiation of doubly ionized oxygen (green) and the alpha radiation of ionized hydrogen (red). The universe gurgles with the waters of repose. It –- we –- are all of a piece.